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Focal Point Gallery is South Essex’s gallery for contemporary visual art, located within the Forum in Central Southend. It adopts a new model of gallery development, incorporated into a larger cultural complex comprising Southend Library and College and the University Of Essex.
In recognition that this is the first scheme to bring public and private organisations together in this way, the London-based architects have physically and visually woven the gallery’s design into the broader building’s fabric.
The shared elements of the building have, however, been balanced with a desire to ensure the gallery retains architectural independence. Subsequently, walls are shrunk back from the main frame of the building and fittings have been commissioned to ensure a carefully composed appearance, which has achieved a BREEAM excellent rating.
The primary gallery space is fully serviced and satisfies Government Indemnity criteria for lighting, temperature, humidity control and security, opening up opportunities for international loans to the region. Smaller permeable exhibiting spaces are created in a secondary gallery, archive cabinets and impromptu displays. Meanwhile, a versatile Project Space, which can serve as a workshop, lecture and film screening room, enables the gallery to expand on its already-strong work in the local community.
The organisation’s history is referenced through rough, tactile materials which recall the gallery’s former location in the town’s previous Brutalist library and the architects worked with the artists Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Mike Nelson and Tris Vonna-Michell on a series of permanent commissions inspired by the gallery’s previous achievements and location.
Making the most of the gallery’s more central position off the high street, accessibility has also been a key factor in the design, according to Brian Greathead, Manalo & White’s director. A semi-public office and externally-facing mirrors in which passers-by are reflected were all part of creating “a space which is non-intimidating, even when the art on display is uncompromising.”